By the Department of Justice (DOJ)
A federal jury has found two Mexican men guilty of drug and alien trafficking charges after law enforcement caught them on a panga boat containing 45 pounds of methamphetamine and 11 undocumented non-citizens from Mexico on a Santa Barbara County beach, the Justice Department announced December 21, 2022.
Jorge Muñoz-Muñoz, 26, of Ensenada, Mexico, and Roel Aranzubia-Álvarez, 43, of Sinaloa, Mexico, were found guilty on Tuesday afternoon of one count of conspiracy to bring non-citizens into the United States, 11 counts of alien smuggling, 11 counts of alien smuggling for private financial gain, and one count of aiding and assisting an alien convicted of an aggravated felony to enter the United States.
Muñoz-Muñoz also was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, one count of conspiracy to import methamphetamine, and one count of importation of methamphetamine. Aranzubia-Álvarez was found not guilty of the drug-related charges.
According to evidence presented at their five-day trial, on the morning of September 27, 2021, law enforcement sighted a panga boat adrift off the coast of Santa Barbara County. The vessel, which was having engine trouble, ultimately made landfall at Arroyo Quemada Beach, approximately 25 miles west of Santa Barbara.
The investigation in this matter revealed that there were 15 people on the boat, including several crewmembers, and that Aranzubia-Álvarez was the boat’s captain. Two black bags that contained a total of 40 vacuum-sealed and plastic-wrapped bindles, totaling approximately 45 pounds, were thrown off the boat by passengers at Muñoz-Muñoz’s direction and later were recovered by law enforcement.
Law enforcement also later confirmed that all occupants of the boat were undocumented non-citizens. Based on interviews with the passengers, it was determined that the passengers arrived at a beach in Ensenada, Mexico, to board a panga that would smuggle them into the United States for a price of approximately $15,000 each.
Both defendants have been in federal custody since their arrest in September 2021.
United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer scheduled an April 10 sentencing hearing, at which time Muñoz-Muñoz will face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison, and Aranzubia-Álvarez will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Homeland Security Investigations investigated this matter. United States Customs and Border Protection, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorney Haoxiaohan Cai and Justice Department Trial Attorney Siobhan M. Namazi, both of the General Crimes Section, are prosecuting this case.